Men’s Look Forward: Basel, Valencia

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Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

ATP Tennis News

Quick: Other than the year-end Championships, what is the toughest event on the ATP to get into?

No, it’s not one of the Slams, nor one of the Masters. Based on the qualifying cutoff, at least, it appears to be Basel, the year’s last 500 point event. It’s so tough that Adrian Mannarino, who has been hovering around #40, is in the qualifying!

Which makes sense, in a way. Anyone who has any Race chances at all has to be here — the gap between #8 David Ferrer and the rest of the field is so large that Paris won’t be enough to let them pass him. They need more. And since Basel is a 500 point event, and the week’s other tournament, Valencia, is now a 250, that means Basel is the place to play.

Well — for most of them. Interestingly, the guy who in effect has the most on the line this week, David Ferrer, is in Valencia. Of course, he is Spanish! He’s the #1 seed in a draw where he is also the only Top Fifteen player. Feliciano Lopez, who of course is also Spanish, is the #2 seed. Bernard Tomic is #3, and is in Ferrer’s half; #4 seed Fabio Fognini is in Lopez’s and has the last bye. And if that didn’t make the draw top-heavy enough, #5 seed Benoit Paire, who is having a great second half, is drawn to face Tomic in the quarterfinal. #6 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is drawn to face Lopez, and #7 Roberto Bautista Agut is drawn against Fognini. (Yes, that’s four out of eight seeds who are Spanish.) The #8 seed goes to Jeremy Chardy, who is in Ferrer’s quarter.

That gives us a cutoff for seeding around #30, so there are some pretty good unseeded players. Ferrer opens against Nick Kyrgios — talk about contrast, one of the quietest guys on the tour against the guy who almost certainly would win the ATP’s “Most Obnoxious” award if there were one. Chardy might face Vasek Pospisil in round two. Tomic may open against Pablo Cuevas. Paire’s second round could be against Gilles Muller, who keeps on falling just short of the Top Thirty. Bautista Agut opens against Nicolas Almagro (yes, yet another Spaniard — of the twelve players in the bottom half with direct entry, seven are Spaniards). Fognini might start against Thomaz Bellucci, another guy who just missed seeding. Garcia-Lopez opens against Fernando Verdasco. And Lopez will start against either Steve Johnson, who is in red hot although he is going to be tired, or Martin Klizan.

But it’s at Basel that the Race will probably be settled; it’s the tournament with the three Top Ten players and the three other Race competitors.

And the one other Race non-competitor. Notably absent from Basel is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the #9 guy in the Race. That means that he cannot catch #8 Ferrer. That by itself doesn’t clinch for Ferrer — it doesn’t even clinch for Kei Nishikori, quite — but it means Tsonga is out of the hunt. If Ferrer (or Nishikori) loses the last spot, it will be to Kevin Anderson (the #4 seed at Basel) or Richard Gasquet (seeded #5 even though he is now ahead of Anderson in both Race and rankings) or just barely possibly #6 John Isner (who however is so far back that in practical terms he can forget it) or #7 Marin Cilic (ditto).

Ahead of those guys, and clinched for London, are #1 seed Roger Federer, #2 Stan Wawrinka, and #3 Rafael Nadal (who is in Wawrinka’s half). #4 seed Anderson is in Federer’s half; #5 Gasquet is in Wawrinka’s quarter; #6 Isner is in Anderson’s quarter; #7 Cilic is in Nadal’s quarter. The only seed with absolutely no London possibility is #8 David Goffin, in Federer’s quarter. That gives us a seeding cutoff above #20, so we have a lot of strong unseeded players. Federer might play Philipp Kohlschreiber in round two. Goffin opens against Andreas Seppi, then maybe Viktor Troicki (who, however, is in a bad slump). Anderson opens against Borna Coric. Isner has to start against Ernests Gulbis, whose win over Isner at Vienna effectively ended his Race hopes, then probably Jack Sock. Nadal opens against none other than Lukas Rosol, with Grigor Dimitrov likely to follow. Gasquet starts against Jiri Vesely, then Dominic Thiem. And Wawrinka will open against Ivo Karlovic, with Alexandr Dolgopolov likely next.

The Rankings

What is coming off this week is not Basel and Valencia but Paris. Novak Djokovic won that last year, over Milos Raonic (whom, we note, is not in action this week. Neither is Djokovic, of course). The semifinalists were Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych (who are also taking the week off!). Quarterfinalists were Andy Murray (not playing this week), David Ferrer, Kevin Anderson, and Roger Federer.

Djokovic is safe at #1; he’s clinched the year-end top spot. But Federer has a chance to regain the #2 ranking from Murray, although he’ll need a title. Murray will be no worse than #3, and Wawrinka is guaranteed to stay at #4. The next few spots are interesting, because #5 Berdych and #6 Nishikori are both defending points and #7 Nadal isn’t. On the other hand, Nadal’s catalog is full of big optional event results; where he has fallen down is the required events. But if he can win Basel, he’ll rise to #6 and perhaps be close to #5, depending on Berdych’s Sunday result, with Nishikori #7. Ferrer is safe at #8.

Raonic will be falling out of the Top Ten. The question is who will get his #9 spot, and who will be #10. Tsonga, Gasquet, Anderson, Isner, and Cilic are all contenders, although Tsonga’s decision not to play this week, plus the 90 points he has to defend from Paris, make it very unlikely that he’ll be the one. And Isner and Cilic are a long way back….

Of course, what really matters right now is the Race. That is almost over; Tsonga’s absence from next week’s events, Gasquet’s loss at Stockholm, and Ferrer’s results in Vienna have seen to that. It’s going to be Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka, Nadal, Berdych, Nishikori, and Ferrer in London. The main contest now is for alternate spots — and that contest is too close to settle this week; it will be settled in Paris.

Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.